Check out some of our favourite books from our days at UDS High!
There’s no getting around it. Sometimes school sucks.
From the daily bombardment of adolescent hormones, to double Maths on a Friday, it can all leave you feeling bored, stressed, scared or horny. Fortunately, the welcome escape of fiction is always there to give you temporary reprieve from the horrors of the everyday. From video games to movies, music and more, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have some way of shutting out reality.
Heck, we made a bloody website about it all.
Yet one of the small luxuries of the education system is getting introduced to new characters and worlds in English Literature. Sure, reciting a sonnet ad nauseam might not be all that fun, but every now and then the right text, coupled with a teacher with the passion and energy to help it come to life, can open your mind in ways that can change your life.
We’re going to celebrate some of our favourite books we read for school here…
Lord of the Flies – William Golding | Neale
I don’t really know what caught my attention about William Golding’s Lord of the Flies when I was a teen. Something about it certainly cemented itself in my brain; maybe it was the compelling breakdown of children in a lawless environment, coupled with the fear of the unknown preying on them at every moment – or maybe it was the months it took us as a class to read it. Either way, it really stuck with me.
Based on a Season 9 episode of The Simpsons (5F11 – Das Bus), Lord of the Flies follows a plane that crash lands on an uninhabited island, and these school boys that happen to be in the plane when it crash lands too. They have to fight against mother nature herself to survive, and they keep lighting this fire to try and get the attention of any passing boats or planes, and then it turns out there might be a monster on the island, or there might not be, the boys aren’t sure. In the end, the plane doesn’t make it off the island, and the monster was real the whole time, but it turned out just to be a boar that they thought was the devil itself, or something like that I think.
In his infinite wisdom, Golding decided to spare (most of) the boys on the island from a terrible fate, which I think might’ve been lost on mid-noughties children reading it hoping for a twisted ending. Regardless I really liked the book, and even watched both film adaptations not long after finishing it. All in all, pretty good. Good boy Golding. Really liked it. Wasn’t even too long. Thanks for that, mate.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck | Dobbie
The book I’ve chosen is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I read as part of my English GCSE course back in 2008 (12 years ago…how?). Published in 1937, the novel follows George Milton and Lennie Small; a pair of ranch workers in California who move from place to place in search of work during the US’s Great Depression period. The friendship between the two is one of the main focal points of the book, and a particular lens is pointed at Lennie, a big and strong man who is also mentally disabled – these two traits combined frequently being the reason that he and George have to move from one place of work to another.
Other themes that are tackled throughout the book are lifelong dreams and aspirations, loneliness and the barriers that can be created by acting inhumanly towards others. The last of these themes is explored in several ways, touching on racism, domestic abuse and manipulation among other ideas.
Of Mice and Men really stuck with me, but I must admit I don’t know why. Perhaps studying a book for several months will just cause it to ingrain in your psyche regardless of if you actually enjoyed it or not? Admittedly, I did enjoy the book, and I think the themes, whilst only touched on to a surface level at times, are explored in an interesting way. I think it was also very easy to gravitate to the characters of George and Lennie – to understand that Lennie doesn’t truly realise his own strength and that all he really wants is to look after the cute animals on a ranch he would own with George someday, and to understand the protectiveness George feels for Lennie, even as the events of the book unfold and things start to get quite challenging.
A final note I’d like to touch on is the 1992 film version of the book, starring John Malkovich as Lennie and Gary Sinise as George (Sinise also directed the movie). It’s not note-perfect in comparison to the book, but it does include the majority of the themes and beats that the book hits. My class watched the film during the study of the book, and nowadays the cast are the faces I picture whenever I think of the book. If you’re not into the idea of reading the book, I would wholeheartedly recommend checking out the film.
Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo | Tom
I was a real nerd. So nerdy in fact that I did an extra English exam on top of my A-Level for kicks. As part of my la-di-da Pre-U coursework, I was introduced to Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun.
The story documents Joe Bonham, a young American soldier serving in the First World War, who wakes up in a hospital bed to find he’s been horrifically disfigured, losing all four limbs and having all his facial features, including his nose, ears, tongue and eyes, blown away. He’s effectively a prisoner in his own body, unable to communicate with the outside world, until he establishes contact by banging his head on his pillow to the rhythm of morse code.
Although he initially wants to die, he later begs to have his body paraded around the country as a warning to anyone brainwashed by the glitz and glamour of military propaganda. Of course, the army refuse his request, and it’s inferred he lives out the rest of his life trapped in the shell of his body.
It’s a haunting, grizzly reminder of the horrors of warfare, and it’s particularly poignant that it would release just before the eve of the Second World War – an even bloodier war than what had come before. The themes of disillusionment, claustrophobia and hopelessness don’t make for easy reading, but it’s compelling all the same.
And if the plot sounds familiar, it could be because Metallica used footage of the film adaption (also directed by Trumbo) for the music video of their single One.
Romeo & Juliet – William Shakespeare | Craig
Romeo & Juliet is a story about love. In a time where two families are fighting, the two titular characters fall in love, despite the fact they are from these warring families AND all the hardships that may arise. In my teenage years I was not interested in clichéd love stories; they bored me to no end. I was likely being a dick at the back of the class, wanting to go home and play Sonic Heroes. I do recall watching the 1996 film adaptation Romeo + Juliet, though it was enjoyable, I couldn’t get past the Early Modern English lifted straight from the play.
Thinking back to studying Shakespeare’s work at school brings up a memory that I can remember with pure clarity. I asked my English teacher “What if all of these themes and concepts that we are studying so much weren’t actually part of Shakespeare’s writing and we’ve just over analysed his works for decades?” You may expect a question like this to be batted away, but instead of outright dismissing what I asked, he replied “That is an interesting concept. However, Shakespeare is not here to say to us whether that’s true or not and as neither of us have PHDs in researching English Literature, we shall just assume he did mean for these themes and get on with the curriculum”.
The point of this piece was to relive some nostalgia from our school days and look fondly on times past. However, thinking about it, I didn’t like my secondary school. Combine this with topics that did not spark any sort of creativity from me and it was bound to be an awful time. Sure, there were a few good moments but these were few and far between and looking back, Romeo & Juliet definitely was not one of them (Editor’s Note: we asked Craig to write about a book he liked, sorry).
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